What’s the difference between blackheads and sebaceous filaments?

It’s common to mistake a sebaceous filament for a blackhead. If you’re looking up close at your mirror and see tiny black/brown/gray/yellowish dots on your nose, chin, or T-zone, those are likely sebaceous filaments, pores containing a combination of oil and dead skin cells. They aren’t “clogging” the pore yet, they’re just peacefully co-existing. Blackheads form down the road, they’re usually larger, and appear as raised bumps. It’s tempting to want to squeeze out sebaceous filament as if it were a pimple, because what comes out is a satisfying yellow-ish ooze or a tiny white fiber-looking plug. However, you risk widening the pore and allowing even more bacteria in, and the cycle restarts again. Pore strips also remove the oily-mix, but the pores will produce oil and refill soon afterwards. Pore strips also risk stretching out pores and stripping the top layer of the skin. “It's best to clear pores more gradually with a cleanser,” says Dr. Tiffany Jow Libby, a board-certified dermatologist and the Director of Mohs Micrographic and Dermatologic Surgery at Brown Dermatology. Cleansing can keep the sebaceous filament from building up and turning into a fully clogged pore.

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Clogged Pores

Pores are filled with a buildup of sebum, dead skin cells, bacteria, and other minuscule debris.

Also Called

Whiteheads, blackheads, acne, pimples

Looks Like

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Frequently Found On

Back, chest, arms

Learn More: Clogged Pores